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SOCCER

Hugo Broos’ Bafana brood are buoyant but still far from being top dogs

Hugo Broos’ Bafana brood are buoyant but still far from being top dogs
Hugo Broos hugs Percy Tau in the game against Morocco on 17 June 2023 at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, with Bafana Banana going on to beat Morocco 2–1. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Bafana Bafana’s coach has been at the helm for just over two years. In that time, there have been lows and highs in equal measure – but undeniable growth.

Just over a year ago, South Africa’s senior men’s soccer side (whose moniker Bafana Bafana translates as “Boys Boys” from isiZulu) were manhandled by then world champions France.

That 5–0 routing in Lille, spearheaded by Kylian Mbappé, was truly a case of men against boys.

The match clearly demonstrated the work Bafana coach Hugo Broos still had to do if he hoped to guide South Africa to their second Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification in the last four editions.

The result drew the ire of some South African soccer supporters. After all, over the past two decades they have had to watch a team that possessed loads of promise during the mid-1990s to early 2000s but has gradually regressed since then.

However, according to Broos, that walloping was a necessary harsh lesson, laying bare just how far behind Bafana Bafana had fallen in terms of global standards.

It also served as a wake-up call to the players, telling them that, if they wanted to help their country become a competitive soccer nation once more, they would have to pull up their socks.  

Bafana Bafana vs Morocco

South Africa players celebrate during the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier match between South Africa and Morocco at FNB Stadium on 17 June 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Years gone by

Only those blinded by nostalgia for the team that held an accomplished French side to a 0–0 stalemate in 2000 would have been ignorant of the possibility of such a savage mauling by the current generation of French soccer stars.

It’s true that South Africa famously shocked Les Bleus in the group phase of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. However, that was a French side beleaguered by internal squabbles and player mutiny.

Even in that euphoric moment, the regression of Bafana from the generation that won Afcon 1996 was evident. Despite that famous victory over France on home soil, South Africa set the unwanted record of becoming the first host nation to exit the World Cup in the group stages.

“We knew before the game there was a difference of level between the two teams,” Broos said in his assessment of the ill-fated France match last year.

“For us, the result was not important. It’s a good experience for our young team.

“This is not a shame for us. We were a team until the end. There is more quality than six months ago.”

Progress is something Broos has harped on about quite extensively since his Bafana Bafana tenure started in May 2021. That France match took place in March 2022.

Just over a year after that humbling defeat, South Africa’s senior soccer men’s side has sealed qualification to the 2023 Afcon in Ivory Coast.

Thapelo Morena during the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier match between South Africa and Morocco at FNB Stadium on 17 June 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Played a blinder

Most recently – as further proof of positive steps taken under Broos – Bafana Bafana played a blinder of a game to beat Africa’s No 1-ranked side, Morocco, in Johannesburg.

Of course, just as that France result was not the final nail in the coffin for Bafana Bafana, but rather a harsh wake-up call, these positive returns of late are also not an indication of how good the team currently is.

The chance for the South Africans to truly gauge themselves will present itself in Ivory Coast come January next year. However, on the way to that litmus test, every positive accumulation on the journey is welcome.

“I said before the game that the result is not important, but I would like to see a good performance. I would like to see the progression we have made in the last few months,” Broos said after his team beat Morocco to ascend to Group K’s pinnacle in the Afcon qualifiers.

The 71-year-old Belgian has regularly raised eyebrows for making selections that some deem to be left-field or not good enough for the national team.

Nevertheless, some of those he has trusted from the beginning have repaid his faith, and he has been aware and honest enough with himself to ditch those who don’t fit into his future plans.  

“I’m happy that I’ve gone on to give confidence to this group of players. I’ve believed in them, even when some people didn’t believe in them, [saying] I made bad choices, [saying] that I didn’t understand the South African culture,” Broos told journalists recently.

“But you see, you don’t build a team in one day. You need time. In that time defeat can be very useful. We had defeats. But we learnt a lot from them. Today you see a team that plays good football, a team that creates a lot of chances.”  

It’s clear that Broos has found his core group, although the door is not closed to any player.

“The boys were there [when I started]. But they didn’t really understand what I wanted. But now I have a group that I feel will do what I say or ask. That they will try to do it,” Broos told the South African Football Association’s media department ahead of the Morocco clash.

Prior to winning the 2017 Afcon with Cameroon, a team labelled one of the “worst” the African soccer powerhouse had ever assembled, Broos faced similar scrutiny to what he has experienced since arriving in South Africa.

Come January 2024, he will hope his current crop of “misfits” speak for him on the field. But before then there remains massive room for improvement for Bafana Bafana. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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